By Georganne Fiumara
Freelance writing is a rewarding way to work at home. As a writer, you have the special opportunity to influence what others think and do. You can touch emotions and possibly even change the course of a reader’s life. Each year, millions of men and women will attempt to have their words published in magazines, newspapers or books but only a very small percentage will be successful. Those who remain unpublished may secretly feel that the published writers have more talent than they do. Although some have more skill than others, talent is not the reason why most freelance writers achieve success. The following six steps can help you get started on the road to getting published:
- Now is the time to start. Ask yourself this question: Do I want to be a writer, or do I want to write? There is a difference. Becoming a writer is a fantasy: writing is hard work. If you are waiting for the right time and place to begin writing, you will never find out if you can do it. Don’t wait until the kids start school or until you can afford a computer. To become a writer, the first thing you have to do is write—right now. There is no better time to begin, and waiting is just an excuse to avoid failure.
- Learn your craft. There is not enough room here to give writing lessons, but I can tell you what you have to do to become the best writer you can be: Read and write. Read the type of writing that you want to do. Read all of the publications you want to write for. As you read, notice the best and worst traits of each writer. Write down phrases that you admire. You can even type out a good article to get a feel for how the sentences are structured. Then, read about writing. There are many excellent books about writing and most are available from Writer’s Digest Book Club in Cincinnati, Ohio. They also publish an excellent magazine called Writer’s Digest. The most important way to improve your writing is to write. Like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you will get. Eventually you will develop your own style, your unique voice, which will make it a little easier to complete your assignment. But this won’t happen until you write as much as you can.
- Choose your topics carefully. What you write about is more important that your writing skill. Your topics must be marketable. Determine if your article is of interest to the readers of the magazine you are targeting. What makes you qualified to write such an article? Do you have expertise in this area, or will you interview those who do? Is your topic one that has not been covered recently, or do you have a fresh angle on the subject? Will you be teaching your readers a skill that they might have to pay to learn elsewhere? Will the information you provide empower your readers? If you cannot meet these guidelines, it is unlikely that a magazine would be interested in publishing your material.
- Do what successful writers do. You may have been blessed with some writing ability, but you will not become a published writer until you learn the methods used by working freelancers. Everyone has heard the expression “Write about what you know.” If you want to have your writing published, you also need to write for publications you know. Until you become a regular reader, there is no way you can know the “personality”of the magazine, the type of articles they buy, and which ideas have not yet been used. Just as you cannot draw a picture of someone you have never met, you cannot write an acceptable article for a publication you have never seen. If you read about a magazine that is not available in your area, send for a sample issue and ask for writer’s guidelines. Become as informed as possible but do not write the article until you contact the publication with a query. Experienced writers do not submit completed articles. They do not want to waste their time completing work that has not been assigned. Instead, learn how to demonstrate your writing ability and present your ideas in a focused proposal letter called a query. Splurge on good stationery with your name and address at the top. Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply. Appearance and professionalism does count.
- Effective marketing is as important as good writing. If you view your writing as your “product”; you will understand why it is so important to use marketing techniques to convince and editor to buy what you are selling. Writing is a business, and only those who realize this will have a chance of succeeding. Use your query to explain to the editor why the readers will be interested in your topic and how they can benefit from your words. Unpublished writers have the greatest difficulty selling their work. You can make it easier to become published if you don’t try for the national magazines right away. If you have to, write for the local shopper newspaper for free, but do the very best job you can do. No one will know that you were not paid for your writing and you will have published clips to show the editors of larger publications.
- Rejection is part of the process. No one likes to be told that their work is unacceptable, but it is especially difficult to have a creative endeavor rejected. The great majority of people who want to become writers submit one article, poem or short story. When the publication sends them a preprinted rejection slip, the writer feels that his or her worst fears have been confirmed. So, the manuscript goes into a drawer and never again sees the light of day. This is a very big mistake. Publications reject work for many reasons. Bad writing is only one of them. They may have covered a similar topic recently, or the publication does not use poetry, or the editor had a bad day and rejected everything that crossed her desk. Or, maybe this particular piece was not up to professional standards. The reason doesn’t really matter. It is important, however, to decide at the very beginning of your career that rejection is just one part of the acceptance process. Until you are willing to take the chance of being rejected over and over again, you will never have your work accepted. Even the best baseball players strike out more than they get hits. But, the strike-outs do not take one bit of the glory away from each home run. Instant success cannot be expected in any profession. Becoming a published writer is a process. Anyone with a little talent and a lot of focus and perseverance can succeed.
Georganne Fiumara is a writer specializing in home business topics. She has had more than 85 articles published in magazines and newspapers such as Family Circle, Women’s Day, American Baby, Income Opportunities, The New York Times and Newsday. In 1984, she founded Mothers’ Home Business Network, a national organization providing ideas, information and inspiration for mothers who choose to work at home, with a Web site at homeworkingmom.com.